Monday, 10 December 2012

The world is a book... and what a chapter this has been!

By: Gloria Atanmo

It’s been said before that the world is like a book; and those who don’t travel, only read one page. These words couldn’t hold more truth than today. As I prepare for my final day in Europe, the mixed emotions, the maxed credit cards, and the life lessons learned simply can’t be replaced with any other experience, than what I gained with studying abroad through Harlaxton College.

Life is truly what you make of it. Every experience. Every adverse situation. Every opportunity. Every person who has studied abroad at Harlaxton in the last 40+ years has experienced their own unique “Aha!” moment. That moment when you realize that waking up in a castle every morning is nothing short of a fairy tale. That moment when you’ve visited a monument in a country you thought, as a kid, only existed in movies. That moment when you made a new friend that you knew right away would last a life-time. And of course, that moment when you check your bank account after a long weekend getaway. Those moments sum up the memories, and those memories sum up your study abroad experience.

In Rome, Italy at the Piazza di Spagna!
After an amazing last excursion through Italy, I can honestly say I’m leaving Harlaxton with no regrets. I’ve done more living in the last 3 months than I have my entire 22 years of life. I’ve made so many connections, I’ve ventured to so many different cities, and I’ve tried so many different foods. Not a single day went by that I didn’t think about how lucky I am. Lucky, fortunate, and undeniably blessed.

To say I’ve traveled in places like London, Scotland, Ireland, Paris, and Rome completely on my own, is something I am truly proud of. I used to worry about going to the other side of Kansas City on my own, and now, I'm visiting foreign countries left and right, where the dialect, currency, and atmosphere is the furthest thing from familiarity, yet I have the time of my life! But beyond the initial scare and paranoia, I’ve done so much mental and internal growth because of it. I’ve discovered a new side of me that either didn’t exist, or has been in a 22-year labor awaiting its birth.

The world is a book, and every chapter holds a new adventure.

The People.
The Foods.
The Languages.
The Currency.
The Postlogue: Getting nearly banned from re-entering a country.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

I know I don’t speak for myself when I say, it moves me to the point of tears when I think about how abruptly this has come to an end. My words merely suffice and the pictures only do half the justice. This beautiful world is a book I could read over and over and never get tired of. And I’ve experienced so many chapters throughout this journey that I’m not even mad I have to close the book, because now, I’m writing my own sequel. Life goes on, and so can these experiences if we let them inspire us in the right ways. Inspire the change, the happiness, and the love we, as global citizens, need to pass on to others.

Thanks for being a part of this life-changing journey.


Friday, 7 December 2012

Oh, how bittersweet...

I'M HOME.  Yes, my last blog post is being sent from Ferdinand, Indiana, USA.  But my thoughts are of a country manor in England...

I'm finally home and rested after staying awake for 45 hours straight, minus the few times I dozed off on the plane.  I can't believe it was only two days ago when I was finishing shoving and squooshing my stuff into my suitcase and taking my final British Studies exam.  I then had an hour to say goodbye to Harlaxton, both the house and my Harlaxton family.  It was a long, emotionally taxing hour.  I lived with these people and in these rooms for over 3 months, and I was leaving without knowing exactly when I'd be back.  But rest assured, I WILL be back.  By the time our coach was pulling down the drive, away from my Harlaxton home and many waving faculty, staff, and friends, I was emotionally exhausted.  But my friend and I spent the next two hours talking about Harlaxton, then about things to take our minds off Harlaxton, then back to Harlaxton memories again.  I ended my time in the UK with a performance of Phantom of the Opera.  It was icing on the cake.

It's hard to put into words what this semester means to me.  I remember dreaming of Harlaxton every day of the summer; it completely blew away my expectations.  I planned trips to several different countries; I saw even more than I imagined I would.  I remember watching a 5 minute YouTube video to introduce me to the United Kingdom and realized how little I knew; now I know about Britain's history and culture and can write an essay about British national identity.  I remember looking at pictures of Harlaxton Manor; now I know that pictures don't do it justice.  I was told I'd love my Meet-a-Family; there is no doubt that I LOVE my Meet-a-Family.  I was warned about British Studies and flying with RyanAir and public transportation; none of these were as bad as I'd thought.  I can sum this all up in three words:  I LOVE HARLAXTON.

I traveled to Scotland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and many places in England this semester.  I loved being immersed in each vastly different culture and getting a different vibe from each place.  Some of my favorite memories include viewing London by night on the London Eye, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle and taking a boat tour in Paris, visiting Mozart's house in Salzburg and Dachau concentration camp in Germany, walking through ancient Rome and Vatican City, seeing Stonehenge with my aunt and uncle, and exploring London with my parents.  I surprised myself by adapting quickly to public transportation:  subways, buses, taxis, and trains.  Woah.  My public transportation record before Harlaxton was riding the Washington, D. C., metro one time.  I could go on and on about my weekend trips.  I took at least a day trip every single weekend this semester.  It was fabulous!

Life on campus was also exciting!  I loved our many House competitions and the opportunities for competing in different events.  Bistro nights allowed us to relax and socialize.  As a music major at UE, I am always swamped with classes, homework, and rehearsals.  I must practice for my weekly lessons, orchestra, string ensemble, any tech class I'm taking, and my music therapy practicum.  That leaves little time to play whatever I want and participate in extra, fun things like choir.  This semester, I had little formal music, which gave me many opportunities to be involved in other music activities I wouldn't be in at UE.  I was in choir, which was relaxed and fun.  I was able to sing a few solos and in a quartet.  I performed in two variety shows, playing violin and singing, and a flute quartet.  All of these were low stress and tons of fun!  I also performed in a murder mystery.  It's one of my favorite memories from Harlaxton.  I always enjoyed rehearsals and loved the thrill of performing, and I know that acting would never fit my UE schedule.  Another great experience was traveling to London with my fellow music therapy majors to the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London.  We had a 3-hour private visit that included a presentation, improvisation session, discussion, and observing a session.  We'll take what we learned back to the States.

One of my best Harlaxton experiences was the Meet-a-Family program.  Stephen and Veronica were so similar to me!  I played violin with them at their church and spent lots of time at their house.  They took me to Belton House and out to eat and really gave me a great English experience.  They even had a cat which helped me not miss my own cats so much! :)  They hosted an awesome birthday party for me, and I just loved spending time with them.  I miss them so much already!  But now I have a place to stay when I come back to visit... :D

I'm really going to miss the simple things, like having classes in such beautiful rooms.  My professors.  The staff.  Having one class on Thursday and no classes on Friday. The Christmas tree.  Tea being so readily available (though I'm going to change that at my house!).  The accents.  And especially my Harlaxton family.  I told myself I'd try not to sound too mushy, but the Harlaxton class of fall 2012 is truly a community that I will always remember and keep in touch with.

Right now, my heart is both happy and sad.  I'm glad to be back on American soil, but I can't wait for the next time I get to see my Harlaxton home.  Nothing has (or probably ever will) impact me in such a way.  I've grown incredibly as a person and will never view the world in the same way.  As I reflect on this amazing semester, I must keep this in mind:  "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."
And smile I will.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Reflections on the Best Semester of My Life

Never have I faced the last day of classes with such sadness...where has my time gone???
This semester has been a semester of firsts: first time out of the country, first time flying on my own, first time riding in a cab, first time being away from my family for so long, and my first time trying a whole list of foods, from kebabs to Yorkshire pudding. 

My overall impression of England, from that first experience on the Underground of the family helping that old lady, up until this point, hasn’t proved to be wrong. The people I’ve met are so welcoming and kind, if a bit reserved at first! As I’ve learned about the culture here, I’ve found much to admire—even though I am still an American at heart. 

I got to go on some pretty magical adventures, let me tell ya! Weekends visiting London, a visit to Warner Brother’s Studios to take the Harry Potter tour, taking a train from King’s Cross, attending a murder mystery dinner, dancing at a ceilidh, riding a ferry on Lake Windermere, exploring Harrod’s, dressing in Regency garb in Bath, ice skating in London, experiencing a Christmas market...the list goes on and on! 

And more than that, here follows a list of ordinary(ish) things which, before this semester, were rare treats.  I have now experienced them more times in the last three months than in my entire life previously: 

  •  Seeing the ocean 
  •  Hearing bagpipes
  • Smelling old books
  •  Carrying an umbrella
  •   Flying
  •  Train trips and taxi rides
  • Watching Jane Austen movies
  •   Climbing mountains
  •   Speaking to British people
  •  Drinking hot chocolate

A semester as wonderful as this really cannot be summed up in words. Here are a few that come to my mind when I think of my time here: love, scarf, family, enchanted, Victorian, postcard, accomplishment, parchment, Lancelot, purple, adventure, vintage, novelty. Do I really think my time here was “purple”? No, but I do think that it was multi-faceted, at some times warm and inviting, at others dark and mysterious, but always exciting. Just like purple. 

The most disappointing thing about going home is that I don’t know yet when I will be able to return. But return I must. Because there is so much left to see and do! I believe I have gotten the “bug.” Whatever bug you get from an initial bout of wanderlust, that’s what I have. 

I’ll be taking with me a whole collection of awesome souvenirs and stories, but more importantly, I’ll be bringing back a whole story of wonderful memories that will stay with me forever. I cannot remember a time when I was so completely happy! I have had constant enjoyment from everything ...and that is saying something, since I had many fabulous experiences before coming here. My life has definitely changed, and for the better. I’m still the same person though! Just wiser, friendlier, and much more experienced. I have a greater appreciation for my home—I cannot wait to see everyone at home again! I am returning to good ol’ Kentucky, after the best semester of my life.